Section I - What would an anarchist society look like?

So far this FAQ has been largely critical, focusing on capitalism, the state, and the problems to which they have led, as well as refuting some bogus "solutions" that have been offered by authoritarians of both the right and the left. It is now time to examine the constructive side of anarchism -- the libertarian-socialist society that anarchists envision.

Therefore, in this section of the FAQ we will give a short outline of what an anarchist society might look like. To quote Glenn Albrecht, anarchists "lay great stress on the free unfolding of a spontaneous order without the use of external force or authority" ["Ethics, Anarchy and Sustainable Development", Anarchist Studies vol.2, no.2, pp. 110]. This type of development implies that anarchist society would be organised from the simple to the complex, from the individual upwards to the community, the bioregion and, ultimately, the planet. The resulting complex and diverse order, which would be the outcome of nature freely unfolding toward greater diversity and complexity, is ethically preferable to any other sort of order simply because it allows for the highest degree of organic unity and freedom. As Kropotkin argued, "[w]e forsee millions and millions of groups freely constituting themselves for the the satisfaction of all the varied needs of human beings. . . All these will be composed of human beings who will combine freely. . .'Take pebbles,' said Fourier, 'put them in a box and shake them, and they will arrange themselves in a mosaic that you could never get by enstructing to anyone the work of arranging them harmonimously.'" [The Place of Anarchism in Socialistic Evolution, p. 11-12] Anarchist opposition to hierarchy is an essential part of a "spontaneously ordered" society, for authority stops the free development and growth of the individual. As Proudhon argued, "liberty is the mother of order, not its daughter."

As the individual does not exist in a social vacuum, appropriate social conditions are required for individual freedom (and so subjectivity, or thought) to develop and blossom according to its full potential. The theory of anarchism is built around the central assertion that individuals and their organisations cannot be considered in isolation from each other. As Carole Pateman points out, there is "the argument that there is an interrelationship between the authority structures of institutions and the psychological qualities and attitudes of individuals, and. . .the related argument that the major function of participation is an educative one" [Participation and Democratic Theory, p. 27]. In other words, freedom is only sustained and protected by activity under conditions of freedom, namely self-government. Freedom is the only precondition for acquiring the maturity for continued freedom.

Thus, a system which encourages individuality must be decentralised and participatory in order for people to develop a psychology that allows them to accept the responsibilities of self-management. Living under capitalism produces a servile character, as the individual is constantly placed under hierarchical authority. Such a situation cannot promote freedom. For under wage labour, people sell their creative energy and control over their activity for a given period. The boss does not just take surplus value from the time employees sell, but the time itself -- their ability to make their own decisions, express themselves through work and with their fellow workers. Anarchism is about changing that, putting life before the soul-destroying "efficiency" needed to survive under capitalism; for the anarchist "takes his stand on his positive right to life and all its pleasures, both intellectual, moral and physical. he loves life, and intends to enjoy it to the full." [Mikhail Bakunin, quoted in Bakunin: The Philosophy of Freedom, p. 118]

Anarchists think that the essential social values are human values, and that society is a complex of associations held together by the wills of their members, whose well-being is its purpose. They consider that it is not enough that the forms of association should have the passive or "implied" consent of their members, but that the society and the individuals who make it up will be healthy only if it is in the full sense libertarian, i.e. self-governing, self-managed, and directly democratic. This implies not only that all the citizens should have a "right" to influence its policy if they so desire, but that the greatest possible opportunity should be afforded for every citizen to exercise this right. Anarchism involves an active, not merely passive, citizenship on the part of society's members and holds that this principle is not only applied to some "special" sphere of social action called "politics" but to any and every form of social action, including economic activity.

So, as will be seen, the key concept underlying both the social/political and the economic structure of libertarian socialism is "self-management," a term that implies not only workers control of their workplaces but also citizens' control of their communities (where it becomes "self-government"), through direct democracy and voluntary federation. Thus self-management is the positive implication of anarchism's "negative" principle of opposition to hierarchical authority. For through self-management, hierarchical authority is dissolved, as self-managing workers' councils and community assemblies are decentralized, "horizontal" organizations in which each participant has an equal voice in the decisions that affect his or her life, instead of merely following orders and being governed by others. Self-management, therefore, is the essential condition for a world in which individuals will be free to follow their own dreams, in their own ways, cooperating together as equals without interference from any form of authoritarian power (such as government or boss).

Perhaps needless to say, this section is intended as a heuristic device only, as a way of helping readers envision how anarchist principles might be embodied in practice, but not as a definitive statement of how they must be embodied. The idea that a few people could determine exactly what a free society would look like is contrary to the anarchist principles of free growth and thought, and is far from our intention. Here we simply try to indicate some of the structures that an anarchist society may contain, based on the few examples of anarchy in action that have existed and our critical evaluation of their limitations and successes. Of course, as such a society will not be created overnight or without links to the past, and so it will initially include structures created in social struggle and will be marked with the ideas that inspired and developed within that struggle. For example, the anarchist collectives in Spain were organised in a bottom-up manner, similar to the way the CNT (the anarcho-syndicalist labor union) was organised before the revolution.

This means that how an anarchist society would look like and work is not independent of the means used to create it. In other words, an anarchist society will reflect the social struggle which preceded it and the ideas which existed within that struggle. Therefore the vision of a free society indicated in this section of the FAQ is not some sort of abstraction which will be created over night. If anarchists did think that then they would rightly be called utopian. No, an anarchist society is the outcome of activity and social struggle, struggle which helps to create a mass movement which contains individuals who can think for themselves and are willing and able to take responsibility for their own lifes (see section J - "What do anarchists do?").

So, when reading this section please remember that this is not a blue print but only one possible suggestion of what anarchy would look like. It is designed to provoke thought and indicate that an anarchist society is possible and that such a society is the product of our activity in the here and now.